It’s hard to come up with an industry as international as the foodstuffs market. Often, our food has traveled thousands of miles before ending up on our plates. Nonetheless, it tastes good and is safe to eat—thanks to people like Sudhakar Manne in India.
Leg 8 ■ Hong Kong ➡ Rajahmundry ■ 5,450 Km ■ Arrival 17.11.2015, 4:30 p.m. ■ Travel time 110 hrs ■ 29°C ■ Total distance 49,350 KM
Sudhakar Manne wears a hairnet, a surgical mask and rubber boots. Before entering the factory, he trudges through a disinfectant and scrubs his hands. Hygiene is a top priority on the production floor of Devi Seafoods, whose yearly output of shrimp is 12,000 tons. Located on the east coast of India, Devi is the nation’s largest exporter, supplying customers as far away as Germany, Japan and the United States.
Manne is responsible for ensuring that the shrimp meet the standards of Devi’s international clientele. The 38-year old microbiologist is a food inspector at TÜV SÜD in India. His job is to monitor the production process and ensure that the food we eat is of the highest quality and poses no risk to health. He reviews every step, from the arrival of the fresh catch all the way to the transfer of the packaged product to the shipping department. And he eats shrimp—an average of two dozen a day, thousands a year.
Shrimp belongs to the dec-apod family and is considered a delicacy the world over. White-leg shrimp (Litopenaeus vannamei) and black tiger prawns are mainly bred on the east coast of India, at the Godavari River delta. Devi Seafoods’ 6,000 m² breeding tanks are seeded with as many as 400,000 microscopic larvae, which are fed fish pellets four times a day for three months until they can be harvested.
Devi General Manager Surya Prakash (at right) joins Sudhakar Manne at one of the shrimp farms, just a few minutes away from the factory.
The company owns three aquaculture farms with eighteen tanks in the vicinity of the town of Tanuku. Each tank houses approximately 24 tons of shrimp a year, with a street value of around 170,000 euros. The shrimp industry is booming and India is a major player in the global market.
But these are sensitive creatures. The coveted whiteleg shrimp, for example, require stable water temperatures of at least 20°C and thrives in the tropics. Once removed from the water, however, the shrimp will spoil in India’s muggy climate in no time at all without refrigeration. This means that the shrimp must be kept cooled at all times, preferably from the moment they are netted.
Minute for Minute
Large refrigerated trucks wait at the shrimp farm to take the shrimp straight from the breeding tanks to the nearby factory. This requires hundreds of pounds of ice, which workers transport through the factory in large chutes and dump onto the work tables. The next step of the processing is primarily a manual operation. Working in two shifts, approximately 800 women employed by Devi Seafoods shell and cut the 25-centimeter-long creatures, removing organs, shell and head. No more than 45 minutes after delivery via refrigerated truck, the shrimp is boiled at the other end of the factory; it is then flash-frozen, packaged and stored in a deep-freeze (-40° C) area until it is loaded into refrigerated containers (3,000 cartons per container) and shipped overseas.
But first it must pass Sudhakar Manne’s inspection. He makes regular on-site factory vis-its—some announced, but often with no warning at all. Checklist in hand, he monitors every step of the processing. Are the premises clean and sanitary? Are all employees wearing face masks and gloves? Does the temperature at delivery meet the requirements? Manne observes everything closely, making a note of any deviation that might ultimately result in disqualification of the entire batch.
Water and ice
Finally, the man from TÜV SÜD removes thirteen shipment-ready cartons of shrimp from the refrigeration chamber. He opens the packs, weighs the contents, lets them thaw slowly, scrutinizes the samples and makes a note of any discoloration or breakage.
Particular attention is di-rected to the “glazing”: right before flash-freezing the creatures are sprayed with a thin layer of water. This delicate layer of ice prevents the frozen shrimp from sticking together; afterwards, they can be removed individually. But there are guidelines as to how thick (and heavy) the glazing may be. Ultimately, the customer is paying for shrimp, not frozen water.
Next comes the pleasant part of Sudhakar Manne’s job. Freshly cooked prawns lie on several plates in front of him. Manne has been working as a food auditor for eight years, during which time he has arguably become one of the finest shrimp connoisseurs in the world. After checking a sample for texture with his fingers and sniffing it, he bites into it without hesitation. He tastes, chews and swallows, finally recording his impressions on a registration form.
If he has no complaints, Sudhakar Manne seals the shipment and gives the go-ahead. Three weeks later, the container will arrive in Europe, Japan or the United States. Manne flies back to Secunderabad to spend one evening with his family. And the next day, some-where in India, he’ll be back at work on his next food inspection— because safe is better than sorry.